#XED is Essential for #DEX

DEX, or Digital Employee Experience, is the new thing to orient around. The term “intranets” has been deprecated for a while, and even the term digital workplace could become last year’s idea. Leveraging the ideas of customer experience (CX) to address employee issues, DEX offers a new way of looking at current issues and challenges in how staff are enabled to get their work done, along with all other points of engagement between staff and the organisation.

That’s lovely. But employers need ta get something in return. The spending of all this money to create a better digital employee experience, on top of better intranets, awesome search, and new collaboration tools needs to find a receptivity and resonance among the ranks of employees.

And here’s what I think that is: XED, or Excellent Employee Delivery.

Which means employees who step up and bring passion and excellence to work.

Which means a commitment to lifelong learning.

Which means dealing with employee engagement in yourself – identifying your compelling and driving reason for getting up and going to work each day, not just because you have to but because you want to be there. Because it enables and furthers your goals. Because it offers a way to contribute, and you’re fighting to contribute as much as you can.

Which means taking responsibility for attitude, and character, and teach ability, and competence.

Which means getting better each day.

Which means learning to use the tools at your disposal to be awesome. Because with AI, machine learning and other mega trends coming down the pike that threaten many jobs, learning to see the opportunities and positioning yourself and your team with the skills and abilities to thrive in the new world of work is essential.

Which means searching for ways to become more valuable to your employer, to the marketplace, and to those you work with. And then doing something about the identified gaps.

Which means becoming better at focusing on priorities, concentrating on your core work, minimising busy work, and pushing forward on the mission of the organisation, not playing petty games or delivering a half-hearted performance.

Which means that every employer would look at a request for DEX from XEDers as a “you bothered to ask permission” request, not an “not another request for more by people who can’t even give average.”

XED. What’s your plan?

Improving Things for Knowledge and Information Workers

Knowledge and information workers don’t produce physical product. They are paid to use their brains – leveraging a domain of knowledge, ways of thinking, ways of approaching a problem, ways of creating solutions to problems, and so on. There’s a mental process at the core of how such people deliver value, even if there’s a physicality to how that value is delivered (such as a document, report, slide deck, article, etc.).

The “factors of production” for knowledge and information workers are intangible and largely invisible. Yes, there is likely to be a computer and smartphone (among other devices), some apps, a line of empty coffee cups, and … perhaps some pens, paper and Post-It Notes. But these are only supportive of the knowledge and information process, not primary to them. The primary tools are mental thinking models, learned patterns of approaching a problem, and concentration to build mental models and solve problems in the mind.

How do we improve the productive capacity of a knowledge and information worker? It’s a tough question since so much is intangible and invisible, but my answer is that strengthening the processes that form the intangible and invisible is the primary way of doing that. Which means:

  • Better ways of thinking about problems, such as better questions to understand the problem domain, better content mastery in the domain itself, and better ways of structuring what you hear and learn. Idea mapping, mind mapping, and even dialogue mapping provide tools for doing this. As do checklist to prompt and guide thinking, so as to ensure nothing is neglected.
  • A greater ability to concentrate and focus on problems and finding answers to problems. This could be clarity on what the problem is (hence reducing mental confusion), or a concentration-friendly environment in which to work with few interruptions and distractions. Like seeds in the garden, mental models and ideas need quiet space in which to grow and develop, and interruptions break them very quickly.

If we accept the above as being true, then the prescription for most knowledge and information workers would be:

  • Health and wellbeing are essential. You can’t perform at work if your body is stuffed. Fresh air. Walks. Exercise. Good nutrition. Enough sleep. Etc.
  • Providing the space and place for practicing knowledge and information processes is essential. Such work spaces should prioritise focus, concentration and quietness when required, and the ability to interact with others as and when needed. But interruptions, disruptions, and unwarranted / unwanted background noise are minimised or eliminated.

I have spent much the past couple of decades consulting on approaches for strengthening collaboration, and I do believe good tools and better approaches help with knowledge and information work. But there is an equally – or more so – complement to opportunities for collaboration, and that’s space for solo work. Of ceasing to talk and starting to work.

P.S. So the nuance is about relative importance, and that you can’t have all collaboration nor all concentration in the quietness. Both are required. But open offices, social media, enterprise social tools, apps with relentless notifications, group chat tools and more … have pushed the modern worker too far into the realm of collaboration. We need to find a new balance that actually works.

P.S.S. Ask yourself this question: What would enable me to improve my work? In 2018, is the answer more collaboration, interaction, distractions, disruptions and interruptions? Or something else?

Backlash Against Group Chat

Group chat offers a particular approach to communication between people, characterised by rapid fire interaction, short sentences or thought fragments, and a fun and lively tone. This approach has several implications, such as:

  • The conversation space tends toward chaos, disjointedness, and dis-organisation. People weigh in on multiple, simultaneous and at times overlapping conversations within a given channel, and even across multiple channels. It is very easy to lose track of the essence of a conversation, and become caught in the vortex of apparent urgency. The nature of the medium calls for immediate feedback and interaction on new ideas, which results in an interrupt-driven always-connected work style. The focus on the hyper-short-term steals time and space from thinking on deeper issues and longer-term concerns for the team and its work.
  • The fast-paced interaction feeds the fear of missing out and contributes toward feelings of loss of control. Many Slack users, for example, find themselves impulsively and habitually checking their Slack channels to catchup on activity since they last checked in. Since topics are often discussed with too many words, over too long a time duration, and by people who are not even involved, responsible, nor accountable for decisions arising, active discussions become emotionally and cognitively overwhelming.
  • Short sentences and incomplete thoughts fired rapidly by multiple people into a conversation space undermines any semblance of a coherent line of argument. Such conversations are fragmented, shallow, and not good for depth of thought and insight. Some issues—many even—require a more thoughtful analysis and line of argument to be developed and written coherently in a longer document, whereas Group Chat merely has everyone endlessly chatting about it.
  • Social signals and team dynamics within a conversation space become confused in Group Chat. For example, is silence and non-participation in a topic an indicator of consensus, disagreement, or just that a team member isn’t currently available (and that the team should wait until they are available)? Conversations can quickly be commandeered by the noisy, quick-witted, and verbose members of the team, which when pushed to the extreme, can become workplace bullying and harassment.
  • A “discuss everything” principle can create the sense of always being in a meeting; or as one executive described it, “an all-day meeting with random participants and no agenda.” Always waiting for someone else to respond to your one line comment gives a convenient excuse for not actually doing the work to fully form your own ideas. Another executive commented that “you are constantly tempted to converse on Slack instead of thinking or planning or doing other work.”

In summary, Group Chat can become a significant driver of the fear of missing out, frustrating conversation dynamics, continual interruptions, mental and cognitive fatigue, and the elimination of time to think. Recent research into the use of social media among young people and adults has highlighted the mental health problems that result from frequent use (see here and here); there are already signals that such dynamics apply equally to adults in the workplace due to Group Chat tools.

Over the past couple of years, we have seen the above (and more) charges levelled at Slack. How long until we see an equivalent stream of concern about the usage of Microsoft Teams?

Don’t Get to Perfect Too Soon

Getting to perfect too soon reduces the available space for collaboration. Perfection signals that the current effort is good enough or refined enough, and that the opportunity for input, direction, crazy ideas, left-field thinking, new ways of looking at a problem and the like has gone. For instance, documents without any spelling mistakes that are beautifully printed in full colour – and yet called “draft” – are just a daft way of trying to engage others. The form of the idea is too perfect, creating a barrier to collaboration and interaction and input and argument. Something less perfect would be more perfect to create a space for collaboration.

Open questions, fuzzy lines, loads of question marks and crossed out words, ideas and thoughts signal a lack of presumptuous final clarity that engages the mind and heart, opening the pathways for contribution. For having a say. For providing your two cents. For saying let’s go back to the beginning and ask the why / where / when / who / how questions again (and again) (and again). For reaching out to someone different to ask for their input. For touching base with someone beyond the immediate team to seek their perspective. For scheduling another whiteboard session, another Post-It Note wall attack, another long walk to figure out the relationships, driving rationale, intermediate steps and necessary resources of people, activity and energy.

To create a space for collaboration, think:

  • Handwritten notes, not manifestos beautifully laid out and produced on the new colour laser printer.
  • Hastily drawn whiteboard brain dumps with different colours and handwriting styles, not the printed version from a mind mapping app.
  • Meetings with an intent to think and work together, not a minute-by-minute agenda that makes the whole thing presupposed, pre-planned, and an exercise in rubber-stamping the dream of another.

Less perfection. Less presumption. More space to really work together. Greater vulnerability in openness to new ideas. More trust in motive and intent. Better collaboration.

That would be perfect.

Distractions at the Office Mean That Remote Workers Outperform

Brian writes about why remote workers outperform office workers:

… one study found that the number of people who say they cannot concentrate at their desk has increased by 16 percent since 2008. Also startling: The number of workers who say they do not have access to quiet places to do focused work is up by 13 percent.

It should not matter where people are getting the work done — as long as they are focused and working hard each day.

More: Remote Workers Are Outperforming Office Workers–Here’s Why

I have written about open plan offices before, which introduce major distractions into work life. See:
Open Plan Offices Close the Brain (April 2014)
Open Plan Offices: The Increased Noise Cancels the Collaborative Benefit (September 2013)

Conversations for Understanding – the Amway RealTalk Approach

Claire from Amway explains their RealTalk initiative to create the context for people to talk about difficult subjects without trying to “win” the conversation. The overall intent was to improve the culture at Amway.

A few key points:
– People were encouraged to participate with a positive intent, and assume positive intent on the behalf of others.
– RealTalk was about dialogue not debate. People needed to listen to understand, not talk to win.
– After the RealTalk series finished, people continued to use the format for additional difficult subjects.

Using Data Analytics on People for Better Decision Making

Chantrelle and Natalie from the Workplace Analytics practice at Microsoft share three ideas of how organisations are using people analytics (defined as “the use of data about human behavior, relationships and traits to make business decisions“):

1. In process transformation, by comparing and contrasting process productivity across different teams within a company. If one team is significantly more productive, they are a “bright spot” (showing that something different is possible), and can be engaged to teach other teams.

2. In cultural transformation, by crunching comparative data on things like managerial interaction with direct reports, and the effect of different levels on employee engagement scores. Having data on the difference can bring real data to change programs.

3. In strategic transformation, by looking at the number of hours people are working each week, and focusing change interventions on people and teams who are not overburdened with work. If there’s no schedule-space for embracing change or experimenting with a new way of doing things – because people are “schedule-slammed” – it’s hard to make progress. See diagram above.

Read more: How People Analytics Can Help You Change Process, Culture, and Strategy (Harvard Business Review)

Storytelling for Leaders – Auckland on May 29

Shawn Callahan is presenting his Storytelling for Leaders workshop in Auckland in a couple of weeks:

Anecdote’s Storytelling for Leaders program will teach you the techniques you need to better influence, engage and inspire others – just as thousands of leaders already have, from Melbourne to New York, London to Singapore.

Organisations are changing quickly. Structures are flatter and reporting lines more complex. Staff and customers are spread around the world. And everyone is deafened by the ‘noise’ of information inundation. Yet the modern leader still needs to be able to influence and persuade in this constantly fluid environment…and this leadership occurs at all levels in an organisation.

The sharing of stories orally is a powerful way of cutting through. When we tell stories, people ‘get’ what we are saying – and they remember it. This is the case whether we are communicating informally (which is what we do most of the time) or in a more formal environment such as a presentation.

More: Eventbrite – Storytelling for Leaders

Fast Team Formation

On the way home last night we drove past a group of people on the side of the road. It almost wasn’t worth a second glance, except that some were standing and others were kneeling on the footpath, with one vehicle parked the wrong way to the curb. A second glance revealed someone lying on the ground in the middle of the group. We stopped and I ran over with a son to see if there was anything we could do to help. Half of my kids are active St John Cadets, and I took the most senior one in the vehicle with me.

It was a young woman lying on the ground. She had been found face down on the footpath having a seizure. By the time we got there, there were about ten people in all. The group had done everything right – they were on the phone to the ambulance service, they had put her in the recovery position, a couple of them were talking to her, and they had managed to learn her name. When we arrived one member of the group asked if we had a blanket in our vehicle – which we did – and a nice warm one at that. I ran back to get it and we covered the young woman. She was dressed lightly for running in the evening, and with lying on the footpath she was cold and getting colder. For another ten minutes two members kept talking to her, one kept talking to the ambulance service (“they’re coming”), and others went over the facts we knew. Once the ambulance arrived, the details of the situation were repeated to the ambulance officers, the young woman was handed over to their care, and the group disbanded.

Complete strangers mobilised to help someone in distress. No one gave a team pre-talk. No one gave out roles. No one wrote a team compact. The need was obvious, and as the seconds ticked by, each person used whatever skills and insights they had to help the young woman and ensure everyone was working together to help her. Needs that become obvious to one person were verbalised to see if another team member had a way of solving the problem. A scan of the road revealed a couple of vehicles in the way where the ambulance was likely to stop, and these were moved before they caused a problem.

Twenty minutes saw the formation and disbanding of a team, without any direction, discussion, planning, or strategising. Humanity and concern for the individual drew everyone together. A clear vision, a clear need, a sense of ones own abilities and a willingness to serve the group towards the realisation of the vision were all that was needed in such a situation. Team formation doesn’t aways work so smoothly, but everything clicked last night.

Ever Present Absent

They say to be careful what you wish for. Back around 2000 I wrote a report for Ferris Research on the emergence and growing adoption of wireless handheld devices, and how they allowed people to recapture moments of lost productivity throughout the day. Back then the majority of phones had 12 keys and a postage stamp sized screen, and people had to triple-tap to text. And you could call people; that was a thing. There was an advantage to being different, to having a device with a full keyboard and bigger screen that enabled interaction with better systems, which at that time was primarily email. We have come so far in 17 years, and yet we have lost so much along the way.

– The freedom to roam unhindered and untethered, to explore the world without having to check in, check up, hashtag, and share.

– The freedom to think. Privately. For extended periods of time.

– The time and space to explore a topic quietly without posting about the fact we are exploring it, which makes it a noisy and ineffective exploration, because the performance demands undermine the learning needs.

– The ability to meet up with others, without relying on micro-scheduling. “Where are you?” “I’m outside the café.” (Looking up) “Oh, yes, I see you.” The ability to give micro-updates on movements and time of arrival has devoured our patience; a 5-minute delay in someone arriving without notification is now cause for catastrophic concern.

Everywhere I look now I see people using “wireless handheld devices” (what an old-fashioned term) to engage with the Ever-Present Absent. With someone who isn’t really “there,” apart from their glowing representation through the pixels on a smart device. The light and life that could be shared with others physically nearby is sucked into the vortex of the device – and shared in pixellated form with other people physically far removed but virtually all-demanding. A tap, a like, a share, a poke, a comment. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

A grandmother commented to me about a recent breakfast with two grandsons. “The three of us had breakfast together this morning. I was on my iPad. And both of them were on their phones.” This is the Ever-Absent Present engaged with the Ever-Present Absent.

Our devices are better, but we have lost so much along the way.

We are forgetting how to be present with others, a state of being that’s much more than just existing in the same physical place. The ability to have a conversation without picking up devices, and without relying on carefully crafted sentences that give us time to portray ourselves in “the right way.” We are increasingly unwilling to expose the messy reality of our humanness, preferring to edit out anything that’s less than picture perfect. Sherry Turkle has explored this in her recent book on Reclaiming Conversation.

We are losing the ability to do the hard work of learning, growing, and developing mastery in a topic, prioritising endless pointless chatter over knuckling down and doing the work. Our brains are fried from the never-ending interactional demands; we have trained ourselves to rest momentarily on a topic and drink its easy sugar, and then move quickly before the going gets too hard. Cal Newport explores the costs and consequences in his book Deep Work.

We are paying the price in worsening mental health and decreased wellbeing. A study published earlier this year concluded that:

… while real-world social networks were positively associated with overall well-being, the use of Facebook was negatively associated with overall well-being. These results were particularly strong for mental health; most measures of Facebook use in one year predicted a decrease in mental health in a later year. We found consistently that both liking others’ content and clicking links significantly predicted a subsequent reduction in self-reported physical health, mental health, and life satisfaction.

And we are doing this to ourselves! And it’s not just Facebook.

While the emergence of wireless handheld devices was a pressing issue back in 2000, today’s pressing issues are about learning to get on with other people, recovering focus, rebuilding attention, and carving out spaces of disconnection for creativity and contribution beyond the microsecond.

Let’s start today. Do less with the Ever-Present Absent. Stop being the Ever-Absent Present. Put. Your. Phone. Away. Be present with the people in front of you in the real-world, not the fantasy world we have inhabited for too long.